Queer Theorem, Shambolic Health Care Zombies, and Cecil B DeMille’s Riding Crop

 

from Cecil B DeMille’s Male and Female, featuring Gloria Swanson

I spend much of my waking time reading. Unfortunately, during the school year, a considerable amount of that reading time is spent correcting the inexact writing of adolescents or revisiting worn out texts that I now find tedious, like To Kill a Mockingbird.  However, this spring break I managed not to bring work home with me, so for the last seven days, I’ve been binging on recreational reading.

A shallow person who prefers style to substance, I’m always on the lookout for cool turns-of-phrase or apt imagistic analogies, so rather than sharing any profound truths I ran across this week, I thought share a few stylistic winners.

Early in the week, I read an essay by Samantha Hunt called “Queer Theorem” appearing in the spring 2017 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. In researching her novel on Nikola Tesla, Hunt discovered  that her subject was quite eccentric. For example, he housed “a large population of New York City’s pigeons in his hotel rooms” despite suffering from “a terrible germ formula.” In addition, Tesla had fears of “pearl earrings and human hair.” These irrationalities of the scientist who “invented radio” and “our modern AC electrical system” lead Hunt to wonder about the possibility of the existence of “Queer Science.”

Here’s my favorite sentence, one that ends with a delicious inversion of clichés:[1]

Queer physics, queer healing, queer chemistry, and all of it conducted by starving scientists and mad artists.

 


[1] All of the italics are mine and used to highlight the phrases that send me.


Andrew Sullivan, whom I was hooked on for years, had disappeared into silence for too long but recently has resurfaced with a weekly column in New York Magazine. Here’s his description of the debut of the Republican replacement for Obamacare:

In Washington this week, as this shambolic health-care plan staggered, zombielike, into the House, there was a palpable sense that political gravity may, for the first time, be operational around Trump. If he somehow muscles this legislation through, he will be stuck with an avalanche of angry.

What a killer image. How apt.

illustration by WLM3

Staying on politics, perhaps my favorite prose stylist is James Wolcott who in his February Vanity Fair column offers a piece called Trump: The Movie, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You (if Theaters Still Exist).” Here he suggests various directors who might be able to do the subject justice. Here he is harkening back to the beginning of film:

To do Trumpzilla justice, the film should be blustery, spectacular, gold-garish, and neo-pagan, a Circus Maximus Cecil B. DeMille might have whipped up with his riding crop after a fever dream.

Wolcott’s got rhythm, music, and imagination, mixes high and low with aplomb.

Illustration by WLM3

Interestingly enough, Wolcott’s name came up rather unflatteringly in Dennis Perrin’s Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’ Donoghue, a biography I finished Tuesday. O’Donoghue was perhaps the most influential member of the original National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Perrin calls Wolcott “squeamish” when he describes O’Donoghue as “a master of hip how-do-you-make-a-dead-baby float humor,” which sounds less squeamish to me than matter-of-fact.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer this O’Donoghue bit of bad taste that network censors axed from Weekend Update:

And in Detroit, a handicapped eight-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a supposedly tame lion while television cameras rolled. The child, a deaf mute, suffered only minor scratches from the lion but, according to doctors, she did break three fingers screaming for help.”

[cue symbol crash]

O’Donoghue in center between Aykroyd and Belushi

My last entry comes from Haruki Murakami’s Infinite-Jest-jumbo-sized novel IQ84, which, of course, has been translated from Japanese, and I inherently distrust translations as far as style goes. Nevertheless, this description of a character’s first memory did arrest me for a moment:

The vivid ten-second scene was seared into the wall of his consciousness, his earliest memory in life. Nothing before or after it. It stood out alone, like the steeple of a town visited by a flood, thrusting up above the muddy water.

Okay, enough. The Screaming J’s are playing down at Chico Feo, and the non-literary life is calling me.

1Q84_Murakami

Folly Beach’s Cat Lady, Potential Serial Killer?

Folly Beach’s Cat Lady, Potential Serial Killer?

Greetings From Folly Beach, SC

Greetings From Folly Beach, SC

There’s a high profile, eccentric old lady on Folly Beach whom I encounter practically every day feeding feral cats. I’d say she’s in her mid-to-late 80s, and even if you were to straighten out her stoop, she wouldn’t hit 4’10.” Not surprisingly, people who don’t know her name – and I don’t – call her the Cat Lady.

Every block or so she has placed plastic containers, and every afternoon feral cats gather in anticipation of her arrival. Sometimes, she has a helper, but on most days when I see her, she is alone, wearing an expression of great seriousness as she leans over dumping dry cat food into the bowls. In fact, I saw her this afternoon when I was headed to Chico Feo for a pre-supper malted aperitif. Staring off into space, she had her hands on her hips, like a diminutive, determined, female edition of General Patton. Obviously, this diurnal “mission trip” is her raison d’etre.

Of course, feeding feral cats is an environmental no-no. According to FETA (not exactly an anti-animal organization):

Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse. Feeding ferals increases their ability to give birth to even more kittens who are destined to suffer and die premature deaths. It is essential to get these cats off the streets in order to prevent not only their own suffering, but that of their offspring. Feeding should only be done as a prelude to trapping, to get cats accustomed to eating in a certain place at a certain time.

The article goes on to state that feral cats have abbreviated life spans, suffer from a multitude of maladies thanks to non-vaccination, and even if their autism rates are super low (I just made that up), the food can also attract non-feline varmints. The Cat Lady learned this the hard way last year when a rabid raccoon took a chunk out of her, an event so newsworthy it made the Charleston papers.

Folly Beach is certainly no “Mayberry by the Sea” – its official civic moniker is the Edge of America – but even after the coon attack, the authorities, Sheriff-Taylor-like, look the other way as she putts along in her cart circumnavigating the island. Maybe they figure what the hell, stopping her would kill her, so what if scores of cats suffer or some surfer comes down with a case of rabies? Sometimes targeted human compassion trumps common sense, and going by Haruki Murakami’s brilliant novel Kafka on the Shore, feral cats dig the freedom of homelessness.

ILLUSTRATION BY SAM BOSMA

ILLUSTRATION BY SAM BOSMA from The New Yorker

One of the characters in the novel, Satoru Nakata, through circumstances too complex to relate here, has obtained the ability to converse with cats. People hire him to find their lost pets. Nakata usually begins his investigations in city parks where the ferals hang. In one incident, he strikes up a conversation with a stray and asks the cat his name. “I used to have one when I lived with people,” the cat says, “but I’ve forgotten what it was.” You get the idea [absurd mixed-animal-metaphor-cliché alert] that wild horses couldn’t drag him back to domestication.

 

I’ll admit that the Cat Lady has irritated me on occasion, blocking my path when I’m running late, but even if her head isn’t in the right place, her heart certainly is. Nevertheless, I sense something sinister about her, so for fun, I’m outlining a murder mystery set on Folly in which she’s a serial killer. What’s really enjoyable is deciding whom among the people on Folly I don’t like she murders, in what order, and how. Hey, it’s summer time. It keeps me off the streets, safe from a potential attack by a mad, foaming calico.